Job 33 – “Elihu’s First Speech – Part II”

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Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Elihu tells Job that both dreams and suffering are ways for God to communicate with human beings.

II. Photo
While Elihu is younger than Job, he gives him a reason to pay attention to what he has to say: “The breath of God formed me; The breath of Shaddai sustains me.” (v. 4)

III. Important Verses
vv. 9-12: [I heard you say] “I am guiltless, free from transgression; I am innocent, without iniquity. But He finds reasons to oppose me, Considers me His enemy. He puts my feet in stocks, Watches all my ways.” In this you are not right; I will answer you: God is greater than any man.
vv. 13-15: Why do you complain against Him That He does not reply to any of man’s charges? For God speaks time and again — Though man does not perceive it — In a dream, a night vision, When deep sleep falls on men, While they slumber on their beds.
vv. 31-33: Pay heed, Job, and hear me; Be still, and I will speak; If you have what to say, answer me; Speak, for I am eager to vindicate you. But if not, you listen to me; Be still, and I will teach you wisdom.

IV. Outline

1-7. Adress to Job
8-11. Quoting Job
12-30. Message
    12-16. God speaks to man in dreams
    17-21. Man is punished because of pride
    22-25. God spares man from death
    26-30. A portrayal of an ideal penitent
31-33. Appeal for Job to listen

V. Comment
Elihu addresses Job in ch. 33. He tells him to listen to his speech (vv. 1-7), quotes Job’s argument (vv. 8-11), and proceeds to expound upon the meaning of suffering (vv. 12-30). He ends with a second appeal for Job to listen to him (vv. 31-33). In terms of form, Elihu’s speech is similar to many other speeches in the book. Yet, he is the only one of the friends to address Job by name (vv. 1, 31; also at 32:12 and 37:14).

Elihu introduces his main point with v. 13: “Why do you complain against [God] That He does not reply to any of man’s charges?” Elihu’s message, which is delivered by means of an analogy about a healed sufferer (vv. 19-28), is that God does communicate with man. Human suffering, according to Elihu, is a form communication. God is essentially telling Job, “You are suffering because you are proud (v. 17), but if you turn to Me in prayer (v. 26) I will make you even healthier than you were in your youth (v. 25).” Elihu also mentions that God communicates with human beings in their dreams (vv. 12-16).

The reader was told about Elihu’s anger in 32:3 : “He was angry as well at his three friends, because they found no reply, but merely condemned Job.” In v. 5 this anger comes to the fore: “If you can, answer me; Argue (‘erkhah) against me, take your stand (hityatzavah).” While Elihu is definitely referencing Job’s judicial language (cf. 23:4), it seems that he is also using a military metaphor to challenge Job to a debate. For a militaristic meaning of the word ‘erkhah, see 2 Sam. 10:8: “The Ammonites marched out and took up their battle position (waya‘arkhu) at the entrance of the gate…” Also, for a militaristic meaning of the word yatzav, see 1 Sam. 17:16: “The Philistine stepped forward morning and evening and took his stand (wayityatzeiv) for forty days.”

In v. 18 Elihu tells Job that God communicates with man in dreams (nightmares?) in order to “To turn man away from an action, To suppress pride in man.” Clines writes (pp. 732-733, parentheses omitted): “Nightmares may be very unpleasant, but God has to be cruel to be kind. His gracious intention is to prevent a person from incurring a fatal penalty for some dreadful sin. If those into whose ears these nocturnal warnings are poured will realize their significance, they will abandon their evil ways and so be ‘spared’ or ‘restrained’ from the pit, that is, delivered from descending into the underworld.” In other words, Elihu believes that “suffering is a means of divine communication with humans. He does not abandon the concept of suffering as retribution, but he displaces it with the idea of education.” (Clines, 742)

Elihu tells Job about God’s kindnesses in v. 18: “He spares him from the Pit, His person, from perishing by the sword.” Clines points out that according to Elihu staying alive is the “ultimate good” (cf. vv. 22, 24, 28, 30). Yet, just like the three friends who came before him, Elihu misses the point that Job actually desires death: “Why does [God] give light to the sufferer And life to the bitter in spirit; To those who wait for death but it does not come, Who search for it more than for treasure?” (3:20-21) Job could care less about life and death, all he wants is justice (cf. 16:18, 19:25-26).

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Sefer Iyov (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
Murphy, Wisdom Literature (Forms of Old Testament Literature)

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